A green clover is creating morepearly whitesin West Virginia.

Its a plan�€actually its a dental health planner�€that the West Virginia University Extension Service is celebrating during National 4-H Week, Oct. 1-7.

The first week in October always kicks off the new 4-H year in West Virginia and throughout the United States, with local communities conducting their own celebrations as they reorganize 4-H clubs and special interest groups. The observance formally introduces youths to the famous green clover and the meaning of the individual H (representing Head, Heart, Hands and Health, respectively) printed on each of the clovers four leaves.

Last year in West Virginia, the Health H began attracting 4-H membersdaily attention in a new way�€through personal health planners. Each months games and puzzles challenged 4-Hers to discover and try healthy food and fitness choices.

During the same time, selected WVU Extension Service faculty, staff and volunteers were pilot-testing the new 4-H dental health planner. 4-H members tried health activities, recorded their progress in their planners and incorporated their success stories into club meetings.

4-H members liked taking that test.

One 4-H volunteer leader reported that a local dental hygienist made a different kind of impression:She brought a tooth that had been soaking in a soft drink for 24 hours, and all the 4-Hers were �€~grossed outto see the staining and softness in just a days time.

The hygienist visited the 4-H club only once. But the tooth returned to the clubs meetings each month. Youths of all ages remained fascinated by the tooths continuing decay. The disappearing tooth reinforced the messages of two of the planners healthy drinks sections:Spoonfuls of Sugar Make the Teeth Go DownandSoda Soda Everywhere, But Stop Before You Drink!

The pilot test prepared the dental health project for its National 4-H Week introduction through WVU Extension Services 55 county offices.

WVU Extension agents and volunteers are busy recruiting and reenlisting health officers�€4-H youths trained to lead their clubshealth activities for the year.

Debbie McDonald, who leads WVU Extensions 4-H Youth Development Program, is encouraging each county 4-H program to implement the Healthy Lifestyles Initiative this year.

First goal: 1 youth health officer trained for each 4-H club in West Virginia.

Second goal: 1,465 clubs using the planner every month.

The clubs alone could take thepearly whiteschallenge to more than 24,000 youths. Another 4,000 young people could be reached through the many 4-H special interest organizations�€such as Extensions Family Nutrition Program youth groups�€that meet regularly.

McDonald, a 4-H alumna and former WVU Extension 4-H agent, is not surprised by the initiatives success or its potential.

4-H is the only youth development program,she said,that has a direct connection to technological advances resulting from university research.

The WVU School of Dentistry and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Oral Health Program were among the collaborators who supported the dental health planner.

The Healthy Lifestyles Initiative aims to motivate 4-Hers to try out new healthy habits, to learn how personal choices relate to health and to reinforce positive habits with their families. It builds youth leadership and is fully integrated into our 4-H Youth Development Program,she said, referring to 4-Hs three national primary program areas of citizenship, healthy living, and science, engineering and technology.

Elaine Bowen, the WVU Extension health promotion specialist leading the Healthy Lifestyles Initiative, said that 4-Hs sustained focus on improving daily nutrition, exercise and safety habits is in response to young peoples increasing health problems, including obesity and diabetes.

Thelearn by doing4-H method can help youths and their families choose and adopt better health habits, she said.

Research has shown that 4-H transforms lives. 4-H members do better in school, are more motivated to help others, feel safe to try new things, achieve a sense of self-esteem and develop lasting friendships.

We know that 4-H methods help youths achieve their goals,Bowen said.With 4-H helping youths learn healthier choices by encouraging them to experience those choices, I believe youths will also develop and maintain their own healthy lifestyle goals.

Annually, WVU s 4-H Program delivers educational activities to more than 56,000 West Virginia youths. 4-H activities are open to students between the ages of 5 and 21 years old. Information about clubs, camps, international opportunities and special interest groups is available on the Web (www.ext.wvu.edu), from the WVU Extension Service 4-H Youth Development Program (304-293-2694) and at each WVU Extension Service county office.